Monday, July 23, 2012

The Fence Between Fear and Possibility

Sermon for the 7:30 a.m. service @ All Saints Church in Pasadena | Sunday, July 22, 2012

As most of you know, I am just back from the Episcopal Church’s General Convention -- our every three year conglomeration of liturgy, legislation and shopping – held this year in Indianapolis. This was my eighth General Convention and my first as a deputy -- and I was honored to represent the Diocese of Los Angeles in the legislative process which is one of the “councils of the church.”

And it was quite a process. We studied up on, prayed about, debated over and voted on a wide range of issues -- from a church-wide response to bullying to committing to work for a just peace in the Middle East to making our non-discrimination canons transgender inclusive to adopting prayers for the loss of beloved animals. Just to name a few. We passed a budget focused on mission, created a task force to intentionally plan for major organizational restructure and committed to a three year study of the history and theology of marriage.

And we also worshiped, prayed, sang and heard from some very fine preachers … including our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. It was her Sunday morning sermon that gave me the title for this reflection this morning – “the fence between fear and possibility” -- and what it was going to be was an opportunity to “unpack” the events at General Convention – including a couple of amusing, anecdotal stories of who did what when -- and concluding with why I think what we did in Indianapolis matters to All Saints Church in Pasadena.

And then Aurora Colorado happened. And it was clear this sermon wasn’t going to go where I thought it was.

And yet, when I turned back to quote from the Presiding Bishop I found that her words were just as relevant to our post-Aurora world as they were before the gunman armed with an arsenal of assault weapons opened fire in that crowded movie theater:
Until we can see the chasm between what is and what ought to be, we don’t have any hope of changing. Indeed it is the act of crossing that boundary between what is and what ought to be that is so characteristic of prophets. When Jesus is called a prophet, it has to do with erasing the boundary between God and human flesh. Prophetic words of comfort or challenge urge a kind of frontier work – getting across the fence between fear and possibility, reconciling division, transforming injustice, urging the lost onto the road home.
Bishop Jefferts Schori preached those words to us in the context of a General Convention wrestling with the challenges of re-imagining and restructuring our church to meet the challenges of mission and ministry in the 21st century. She was preaching to a congregation of people who love their church and strive to live out the Gospel while not always agreeing with each other about how to do both of those things. And she was challenging us – and, I suspect, challenging herself (because we know all the best sermons are actually the preacher preaching to the preacher) – to suck it up and get over that fence between fear and possibility in order to bridge the gap between what is and what ought to be in our church and in our world.

This morning what “is” is that the arsenal of weapons the gunman used to kill twelve and injure nearly sixty others were obtained legally. And what “ought to be” are reasonable gun control laws making the kind of carnage we saw in Aurora Colorado not only unimaginable but impossible. In the words of satirist Andy Borowitz – via twitter this morning: "Maybe I'm a dreamer, but I wish mental health care were as easy to get as, say, a gun."

And that, my brothers and sisters, is a tweet that deserves and “Amen.”

It not only deserves an “amen” but it deserves our best energies committed to getting over whatever fences stand between what “is” – a world where fear dominates our discourse, pollutes our politics and feed violence – and what “ought to be” – what Jesus called “the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

I have often quoted Verna Dozier from this pulpit and I’m going to do it again. Dr. Dozier famously said, “Don’t tell me what you believe. Tell me what difference it makes that you believe.” And this morning in the All Saints Church chapel we gather to be fed by word and sacrament not just because we believe – but because we believe we are called to make a difference. Called to climb the fence between fear and possibility. Called to refuse to settle for what “is” but to work together with God to create what “ought to be.”

And that brings me back to some of the good news out of the just completed General Convention of the Episcopal Church. We’ve gotten some press out of the gathering – mostly around the movement forward on the fuller inclusion of LGBT people in the work and witness of the church. And by telling what we believe – by putting our faith into action through the legislation passed in Indianapolis – here are a few examples of the difference we are making in comments received on some of the online stories, blogs and news sites:

Here’s one from the Huffington Post: “In response to this story I immediately went on Google and found a local Episcopal Church to attend on Sunday (they even have a female priest), I am very excited...”

And here’s another: “It's amazing that some churches can go out of their way to make sure everyone feels welcome. Someday I may walk into your church just to see what it’s about. KristineE.”

And finally this moving email from “Melissa” -- “You make me want to believe in God. I think you have interpreted with love, kindness, and thoughtfulness the true doctrine of Christ. For what it's worth, you make me wish I believed, so I could belong to a group with you as such a member. I think the Episcopal Church just may save the soul of Christianity with its open and affirming love, which is truly Christ-like in my opinion.”

Having climbed over the fence between the fear of who would leave if we included everybody at the table, the Episcopal Church is now – finally – moving forward into the possibilities open to us as we sing a new church into being … one of faith and love and praise … committed to love, justice and compassion. Stepping out of the “house of fear” we are building “the house of love” – and, as the witness of those comments I just shared illustrate – if we build it, they will come.

One more Dr. Dozier quote to leave you with: “Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong I will trust that if I move by the light that is given me, knowing that it is only finite and partial I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today.

Together let us climb that fence. Together let us claim the future. Together let us make the impossible possible as we work to reconcile division, to transform injustice and to urge the lost onto the road home. Amen.

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